We’re running a bit late, but we head out for the Bastille Day official ceremonies at Place de Concorde anyway. It doesn’t really matter; we’d have to have left at 7 am to get a good place to see. We do our homework and figure out the correct Metro route, but that is also irrelevant. They shut down the exit ramp at that station, a traffic-control move we run into again that day. Everybody has to get back onto the train and get off at Champs Elysees, my least favorite spot in Paris because it’s so commercial and westernized. But that’s another story.
We walk along the Parade route, but it’s already 5-deep and all the places to clamber higher are taken. 5-deep isn’t much for a parade with floats, but this is basically battalions of soldiers marching in the street, so it’s all happening at eye level with no elevation. We finally find a spot that isn’t too bad near the beginning of the festivities with little peepholes we can see through if the kids don’t climb up on the fence. We do this by employing a new French method, just wiggling through the crowd gradually.
The military band plays an opening tune. And then we stand for two hours while nothing happens. They send one group of judge-y looking guys in robes through in the first two hours, but other than that … nothing. The band even stops playing, one guy just resting his tuba on the ground. Evidently parades can start late in Paris. Better skip the coffee that morning, too. You will not be finding a bathroom where the line isn’t so long you’ll miss the entire parade. Naturally Amy and I admire the metal hats and standard-issue man purses of the band. Amy is later charmed by the tuxedo stripe on one of the battalions and how it visually emphasizes the marching. I find some of the white buttoned boots rather dashing.
Finally, the parade begins in earnest with great flair. Some French jets zoom overhead leaving a trail of red, white and blue smoke in the air (the French flag colors). Then many flyovers of their military planes, which are astonishingly fast, nothing like watching a commercial jet. Then battalion after battalion after battalion marching through the street, then the horse brigades, then the motorcycle brigades. I look behind us to see another 10 rows of people who couldn’t possibly have been able to see anything. There are soldiers on a ledge graciously posing for pictures and also taking some photos themselves. I know they’re tough military guys, but I find them strangely sweet and cute. The crowd is peaceful and there are no incidents that I can see. I’ve been in quite a few public crowds already here, and it’s amazing how much more secure you feel when there are no civilians with guns. If something goes wrong here, it’s about pickpockets, drunks getting into a fight or perhaps being pushed down, not some psycho with a gun killing people.
By now, we’d been there for about four hours, more than enough for my blistered feet. As we walk away from the Champs Elysees, we see an enormous helicopter hovering over the Seine. We figure it is the Prime Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, arriving for the final presentation and speech at the end place of the parade.
We make our way through the throngs trying to find a different subway route and a bathroom. It takes a long time and we get lost, as usual. For some reason, subway stations are much less frequent in this area than down by the Louvre. We also experienced for the first time, something I experienced when I was here last time … the disappearing Eiffel Tower. You’ll be walking along, using it as your guide. And then, suddenly, despite its height, it’s gone from view. Also, because none of the streets run in a north/east/south/west square grid, you’ll frequently find yourself walking in a circle. Oh great, sore feet, and right back where we started. Welcome to Paris.
We stop at a little cafe, but the waiter and owner are rude. First they don’t like that we are sitting at a table for four, though the restaurant is mostly empty. Then after we move to one table, they don’t like the one we chose and make us move to one next to it. This despite the fact that lunch here is $25. There are many charming places to eat with great service, so we leave without ordering, but Amy manages to get in a restroom trip before that, as revenge. She also sneaks in there and does the same later that night, when we’re there for the fireworks. Take that for being rude, ha!
All in all, Amy and I decide we didn’t do too badly. We saw most of what there was to see from our tight vantage point at the beginning of the parade. I got some decent photos (though I was wishing I had a 300mm lens instead of just 200mm). And we think we’re just lucky to be here for Bastille Day, to see ceremonial pomp and fabu-stance that we might never see again.